Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cleveland and the Great Racial Facial Divide

Perhaps it was the pressures we had been through in the previous year or perhaps it was we had fallen into a rut, but something began to bend in 1964, something was reshaping our little suburban Harriett and Ozzie World. I was gradually entering a new phase of my life. It did not happen overnight. It takes a bit to change a nice suburban couple into Hell-bent hedonists, more than just getting your car smashed by a rogue rock. (By the way, we were driving up to my parents that night with our wash because our basement was full of water.)
You know, it's interesting people use "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett" as some representative icon of the 1950s. That show was about as realistic to its time period as Jules Verne's A Flight to the Moon and a Trip Around It was representative of space travel. Here is this cozy little family living in this nice home where Harriett is a housewife and Ozzie is a...what? It was never said what Ozzie did, but he seemed to hang about the home wearing argyle sweaters and mooning about Rocky Road Ice Cream most days. My life at no time resembled Ozzie and Harriett's. And in fact, neither did the real Ozzie & Harriett resemble their TV fiction.

The rock hit us on January 23, 1964. February and March passed in the usual mundane way of everyday life. I took the car in for service on February 1. We both had routine physicals at Dr. Mann’s on March 1. We were up to my parents a lot. We were up to my folks’ house 15 times between January 25 and March 25, mostly bumming a meal, although I was bringing our trash up there to dispose of. I had probably cancelled our trash collection to save the cost now that Lois had left her job and money was tight. The rest of my life was get up, go to work, go to evening college, come home, take care of any needs about the house, do my homework, try to write for an hour or two and then talk or you-know what with my wife into the wee hours. It was a somewhat typical and dull life punctuated with much stress over our finances and an incredible lack of sleep.
And so we decided to take a little ride to Cleveland. That is a picture of Cleveland in 1964 at the top of this chapter.  It was Easter weekend and we headed out on Thursday night. I must have been given Good Friday off, not so unusual then; rarer now. When I was growing up everything used to close between noon and three o’clock. Those were the hours Christ hung on the cross, so everything shut down out of reverence and respect. Today people don’t respect anything and reverence is pretty much a thing of the past.
Why Cleveland?
Why not?
We didn’t really plan it you know, we just said, “Let’s take a ride to Cleveland.” We’d never been there. It was straight across the state, not far over Pennsylvania’s western border, about a total of 410 miles as the crow flies. The one caveat in our spur of the moment trip was I had no spare tire. I’m not sure why I didn’t, but I didn’t. Perhaps a tire was damaged by the runaway rock and I had not replaced it, who knows? Oh well, what are the odds I would get a flat? I was a lot more daring in those days, so spare or not, we went.

I barely recall anything about the journey. I remember driving through the tunnels on the turnpike and that they made Lois nervous. She is claustrophobic. I recall actually being in Cleveland, traveling through its blocks and how the streets kept going up in number, 100 Street, 150 Street, 168 Street. I thought this was a small city, how can it have so many streets?
The other thing I remember, and this is the one that made the biggest impression upon both of us, was going over some rumble strips. This was the first drive I ever took and went across rumble strips. Brum-be-brum-be-brum! Scared me to death, what in the world is that? Again, Brum-be-brum-be-brum! We had never heard anything like this before. I thought the drive shaft had fallen out of the car. I pulled off the side , got out and looked underneath. Everything looked in place, so we drove on, wondering what was wrong with the car.
We were safely home by Easter Sunday, car apparently intact, we had heard no more of those strange noises, and no flat tires. Life went back to routine again, trips up to my parents bumming meals, borrowing the lawnmower and dropping off my trash. By June I started to “borrow” money from my parents to supplement our needs.
The only break in the everyday action was on May 2. That was the day I reported in at a
classroom at temple  with about 15,000 other young hopefuls and finally took my SATs. I don’t remember my scores, but I did well enough to be accepted as a matriculating student; Sociology Major, English Minor.

On June 18 we were on one of our regular begger’s visits to my parents when Lois complained of being ill. The next day she was sick enough I took her to the doctor in Philadelphia.
She was pregnant.
Meanwhile, back at Atlantic Refining, I was still in Addressograph. Granted I was technically the boss of the unit, but I was beginning to fear the curse of the Service Department, that like Ron Paul I would languish in this job until time made me obsolete. It had only taken me 8 months to move from my Junior Clerk in Sales Accounting position to the job in Addressograph. That meant I had been in this unit since July of 1960 and here I was still there in June of 1964. I was coming up on the four-year anniversary of cutting plates and stamping envelopes. I had gotten the unit running smoothly to the point each day was routine, meaning each day was boring.
I think I should explain how the addressing machines operated. Metal plates were cut on a graphotype and stored in long trays in alphabetic order (in our case). When I began in the unit the plates after being cut were unreadable since they were sort of upside down and backward. You cut the plate, slid it into a metal frame, printed out these strips of stiff yellow paper , snipped out and slid the printed piece into slots atop the frame. This allowed you to read the information on the plate.
On the original machine that I operated you did it all manually. The tray fit down into a hopper on top. You hit a foot petal and one plate (or frame actually) was fed into and through a track. When the plate was centered beneath a cutout on the top of the machine and beneath an ink ribbon, you would place an envelope there and hit a foot petal that brought a heavy roll of metal, called a platen, down hard against it. This imprinted the address on the envelope. You would then place the envelope aside in a box and feed in the next plate and so on and so forth. Get a bit out of sync and kerboom, you’d smash a finger or two.  The used plates would continue down the track and line up inside an empty tray. Once your initial tray was empty you’d put the now full tray of printed plates away in a cabinet, move the tray that once held plates to that location and drop in a new full tray. This went on and on until a specific job was finished.
The Speedaumat looked and worked essentially the same, except it was a smaller footprint and more importantly, you could read the plate, meaning no frame and no label was required. Where the Speedaumat really differed was it had an envelope feeder. It was a long framework on wheels with a series of feeder rollers on top. You could stack a couple or so boxes of No. 10 envelopes up on the feeder and they would automatically go under the series of rollers and line up beneath the platen. You could drop a couple trays of plates in the hopper on top of the machine and they would also automatically feed through and then drop out into empty trays on the other side. This feeder worked very well with the standard envelope, but if you had oversized envelopes not so well and things like gummed labels, well forget it, jam up city. For anything a little oddball it was back to manual hands-on operation; just watch those fingers because the Speedaumat was faster, thus its name.

This last photo has absolutely nothing to do with the write up. It is just here to see f you are still awake and paying attention.

Dave Claypoole had posted out in the Spring and now worked in Payroll, which put him back into a clerical department where there was opportunity for advancement. (On the right is another sketch I did of Dave.) It fell to me to hire his replacement and I choose a young man named Ed.

Ed was a piece of work. He was a Black man, something Atlantic had not many of, but was now considering hiring more as the Civil Rights Movement heated up around us. He was very dapper and very fastidious about his dress, always checking the cut of his jib and the shine of his shoes; however, he immediately had a problem. As nicely as he dressed, it was wrong for our Unit. Ours was a dirty job. We spent our day in printer’s ink and sometimes blood, very bad stuff to get in your clothes, plus neckties were strictly forbidden since they could easily get caught in the equipment and strangle you.
On the first day he reported for work, all spit and shine and perfect creases, I handed him a packet holding two Atlantic Service Station uniforms. These were generously provided to us by our employer to allow us to preserve our own civilian wear.  Actually they were a little nicer looking than those on the right. The pants were a deep blue and the shirt was a lighter blue shade. It had a patch over the right pocket that said Atlantic. We didn’t need nor get the hat and bowtie. We got two uniforms so we’d have one to wear when the other was in the wash.
I wore mine to work each day. I never felt embarrassed about riding the commuter train in it.  Hey, I was working an honest job, I wasn’t ashamed of it. I’ve never been very fussy about my clothes anyway. For Ed it was a different story. At first he refused to take them, but when I put the emphasis on the danger to his own clothes he acquiesced. He never wore the uniform outside of the building. Each morning he showed up as natty as ever and went in the men’s room and changed into the uniform, carefully hanging his clothes up on a hanger out of the danger zone. In the evening he would reverse the procedure and take off the uniform before showing himself in public.
I had not much contact with Black people up to then. I had my secret friend back in grade school into junior high when I lived in Downingtown. It was a secret because mixing of White and Black people at the time in that area was not encouraged. Actually, my other friendships were not so socially acceptable either. My two non-secret best friends were Stuart, whose family was the lone Jewish one in the town, and Ronald, who was a homosexual. I didn’t know that at the time, no one did, because Ronald kept it secret since that was not a particular welcome thing to be either.
There was a certain amount of conformity in place at Atlantic, sometimes unofficially, but expected. Men, with the exception of those in units like mine, wore suits to work, suits and ties. Although not specified in the handbook, men pretty much wore one color shirt – white. Shoes and socks were normally black, usually laced and often Wing Tips. I wore a pair of black Wing Tips even with the uniform. God forbid a man wear shoes with tassels! Atlantic didn’t have much contact with Black people either in the early ‘sixties, but because of the public outcry for equal rights, they had begun hiring minorities. One of the odd crises of the time was facial hair. Ed, like a number of Black men, had moustaches. Part of the required look for male employees was no facial hair. You came to work clean shaven or you didn’t come to work. In the first round of hiring more minorities the company made a policy change. Black men could have facial hair, because it was part of their culture, but white men could not. This silly rule would eventually change.
I interviewed Ed. I liked him and I recommended him and he was hired. I really didn’t know about his work ethic and he didn’t have a long resume, but he was highly intelligent and we hit it off immediately. He not only replaced Dave on the machines, he also replaced Dave as my sounding board and friend. We soon were having lunch together and we did a lot of talking during the day. Addressograph was one of those jobs where you could work and chatter away with someone. Ed and I chattered away about a number of subjects, politics, religion, philosophy, history, what have you. We seldom agreed, but it didn’t matter. We could argue about subjects without getting angry and we could remin good friends no matter how far apart our opinion might be.
The only problem with Ed was his laissez-faire approach to work, not in any economic sense, but one of his favorite expressions was, “I cawn’t be bothered!”. It was in the lackadaisical way he did his job that showed me I wasn’t really cut out to be a boss. Instead of taking him to task or giving him bad reviews, I would cover for him. If need be I would step in and do his work so it met the deadline and was correct. This is not good management. A boss probably should never become friends with an employee. To indicate what extend his “I can’t be bothered,” philosophy went there was the day of the tray drop.

I was working on supplies and was behind these shelves that lined our work area. Ed was running a Speedaumat machine on auto mode. I had a clear view of him, but he could not see me behnd the shelves and boxes. There was no one else in the area at the time. He pulled a full tray off the back end of the hopper and swung about to slide it into the tray cabinet. He hit the edge instead and the the tray slipped from his hand to the floor. Many of the metal plates flew out and scattered about his feet. He should have knelt down and put these plates back in alpha order, the way they were stored, put them back in the tray and replace the tray in the cabinet. Instead, he looked around the area to see who might have seen him drop the tray. When he saw nobody he simply began kicking the spilled plates underneath the cabnet.
I was very disappointed in him, but concerned person that I was, later I scooped the plates out from under the cabinet, straightened them out and refiled them where they belonged. I just didn’t like to see anyone get into trouble, even at the cost of extra work for myself.
At the end of the year Ed left Atlantic to enter college full time. I kept in touch with him for at least another year. As for me, things needed to change, and change they would.
And as noted, Lois was pregnant.

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